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Adams, John (19 October 1735–04 July 1826), second president of the United States, diplomat, and political theorist, was born in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts, the son of John Adams (1691–1760), a shoemaker, selectman, and deacon, and Susanna Boylston. He claimed as a young man to have indulged in “a constant dissipation among amusements,” such as swimming, fishing, and especially shooting, and wished to be a farmer. However, his father insisted that he follow in the footsteps of his uncle Joseph Adams, attend Harvard College, and become a clergyman. John consented, applied himself to his studies, and developed a passion for learning but refused to become a minister. He felt little love for “frigid John Calvin” and the rigid moral standards expected of New England Congregationalist ministers....

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Alcorn, James Lusk (04 November 1816–20 December 1894), governor of Mississippi and U.S. senator, was born in Golconda, Illinois, the son of James Alcorn and Hannah (maiden name unknown). Soon after his birth, Alcorn’s family moved to Salem, Kentucky, where his father farmed and served as a boatman on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. In 1836 Alcorn briefly attended Cumberland College in Princeton, Kentucky. He tried teaching in Jackson, Arkansas, but soon returned to Livingston County, Kentucky, to serve as deputy sheriff under his uncle. Alcorn also studied law and in 1838 was admitted to the Kentucky bar. In the same year he married Mary Catherine Stewart; they had four children....

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Allen, William (18 December 1803–11 July 1879), U.S. senator and congressman and governor of Ohio, was born in Edenton, North Carolina, the son of Nathaniel Allen, a wealthy merchant and landowner, and Sarah Colburn. Allen’s father had surrendered his Quaker principles to fight in the American Revolution and was a delegate to the North Carolina convention convened to consider the federal Constitution in 1788. Both parents died shortly after William’s birth, and he was raised by his half sister, the wife of a Methodist Episcopal minister, the Reverend Pleasant Thurman. Although born into the gentry, the tangled genealogy of his family, owing to his father’s three marriages and various legal technicalities, denied Allen any inheritance of his father’s considerable assets....

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Ames, Adelbert (31 October 1835–13 April 1933), soldier and politician, was born in Rockland, Maine, the son of Jesse Ames, a sea captain, and Martha B. Tolman. After spending some time at sea as a teenager, Ames entered the U.S. Military Academy, graduating in 1861. He was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to the Fifth Artillery. During the Civil War he was wounded at First Bull Run (First Manassas) on 21 July, and he later received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism there in refusing to leave his post despite the wound. He served with the Army of the Potomac during the Peninsula campaign of 1862, and for his actions at Malvern Hill he was brevetted lieutenant colonel. On 8 August 1862 he was named colonel in command of the Twentieth Maine Volunteer Infantry, with ...

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Baldwin, Roger Sherman (04 January 1793–19 February 1863), lawyer, governor, and senator, was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of Simeon Baldwin, a lawyer, judge, congressman, and mayor of New Haven, and Rebecca Sherman. Baldwin was a direct descendant of the Puritan settlers of Connecticut and the Founding Fathers of the nation. His father’s family was among the original New Haven colonists, and his mother was the daughter of ...

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Banks, Nathaniel Prentiss (30 January 1816–01 September 1894), congressman and Civil War general, was born in Waltham, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel P. Banks, a textile mill foreman, and Rebecca Greenwood. He attended a school for factory children until he began work in the mills as a bobbin boy at age eleven. At seventeen he left factory work to assist his father in carpentry and to learn the machinist’s trade....

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Bingham, Hiram (19 November 1875–06 June 1956), explorer, was born Hiram Bingham III in Honolulu, Hawaii, the son of Hiram Bingham (1831–1908) and Clarissa Minerva Brewster, missionaries. Bingham’s family assumed he would constitute the third generation of missionary service to the natives of the south Pacific and constantly pressured him to live the godly life. His few efforts as a missionary literally made him sick, and he seems to have had little interest in the salvation of the natives. Bingham (he appears to have dropped the III about the time his father died) instead sublimated the family’s missionary zeal into a broad variety of interests....

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Blaine, John James (04 May 1875–16 April 1934), governor of Wisconsin and U.S. senator, was born near Castle Rock, in Grant County, Wisconsin, the son of James Ferguson Blaine and Elizabeth Johnson-Brunstad, farmers. Blaine attended Valparaiso University, from which he received a law degree in 1896. He began a law practice in Boscobel, Wisconsin, immediately after graduation. He married Anna C. McSpaden in 1904; they had one daughter....

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Blease, Coleman Livingston (08 October 1868–19 January 1942), governor of South Carolina and U.S. senator, was born near Newberry Courthouse, South Carolina, the son of Henry Horatio Blease, a farmer who later became a hotel and livery stable owner, and Mary Ann Livingston. Cole, or “Coley,” lived with his large family in the conviviality of their popular Newberry hotel, which nurtured his gregarious personality and prepared him for a career in popular politics. In 1879 he entered Newberry Academy (later College), where he eventually completed the junior year of the school’s collegiate curriculum. In 1887 he enrolled at the law school of South Carolina College but was soon expelled for plagiarism. In 1888 he ran for the state legislature, mounting a campaign that featured white supremacist and anticorporate harangues, but he received little support at the Democratic county convention. Following his defeat, he attended Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where he earned a bachelor of laws degree in 1889, and later that year he began practicing law in Newberry and Saluda, South Carolina. In 1890 he married Lillie B. Summers, who died in 1934. They had no children....

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Bricker, John William (06 September 1893–22 March 1986), governor and U.S. senator, was born in Madison County, Ohio, the son of Lemuel Spencer Bricker and Laura King, farmers. Bricker graduated from Ohio State University in 1916, and when a slow heartbeat disqualified him from military service during World War I, he was ordained as a minister so he could serve as an army chaplain. He received his law degree from Ohio State and began practicing law in Columbus, Ohio, in 1920, the same year he married Harriet Day. They had one child....

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Bridges, Styles (09 September 1898–26 November 1961), governor of New Hampshire and U.S. senator, was born Henry Styles Bridges in West Pembroke, Maine, the son of Earl Leopold Bridges, a tenant farmer, and Alina Roxana Fisher. After his father’s early death, Bridges bore heavy responsibilities on the farm, even while attending school. Upon graduation with a degree in agriculture from the University of Maine in 1918, he worked as an agricultural agent until 1922, when he became executive secretary of the New Hampshire Farm Bureau Federation. Later in the 1920s, while serving as secretary of a New Hampshire investment company, he became a protégé of former governor ...

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Brown, Benjamin Gratz (28 May 1826–13 December 1885), U.S. senator and governor of Missouri, was born in Lexington, Kentucky, the son of Mason Brown, a lawyer, and Judith Bledsoe. He was educated at Transylvania and Yale Universities, graduating from the latter in 1847. He then earned a degree from Louisville Law School. Upon being admitted to the bar in the fall of 1849, he moved to St. Louis to join his cousins ...

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Byrd, Harry Flood (10 June 1887–20 October 1966), governor of Virginia and U.S. senator, was born in Martinsburg, West Virginia, the son of Richard Evelyn Byrd, a lawyer, and Eleanor Bolling Flood. A direct descendant of the colonial William Byrds, Harry Byrd grew up in Winchester, Virginia, in modest circumstances. At age fifteen he left school to take over the failing family newspaper, the Winchester ...

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Chafee, John H. (22 October 1922–24 October 1999), governor, secretary of the navy, and U.S. senator, was born John Hubbard Chafee in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of John Sharpe Chafee, a tool manufacturer, and Janet Hunter Chafee. After completing his studies at the Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Massachusetts, Chafee enrolled at Yale University in 1940. When the United States entered World War II, Chafee, who was a sophomore, left Yale to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps as a private. In 1942, on his twentieth birthday, he was fighting on Guadalcanal. Commissioned as a second lieutenant, Chafee later served with the Sixth Marine Division in the April 1945 battle of Okinawa....

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Chase, Salmon Portland (13 January 1808–07 May 1873), statesman, antislavery leader, and chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, was born in Cornish, New Hampshire, the son of Ithamar Chase, a glassmaker and tavernkeeper, and Janette Ralston. When Chase was nine years old, his father died. To ease the financial burden on his mother, Chase, the eighth of eleven children, moved to Ohio and lived with his uncle ...

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Cleveland, Grover (18 March 1837–24 June 1908), twenty-second and twenty-fourth president of the United States, was born Stephen Grover Cleveland in Caldwell, New Jersey, the son of Richard Falley Cleveland, a Presbyterian minister, and Ann Neal. The fifth of nine children, Grover Cleveland grew up in the household of an itinerant clergyman whose profession called him to Fayetteville, New York, in 1841 and to Clinton, New York, in 1850. He attended the local academy in both communities until the death of his father in 1853 impelled him to abandon schooling in order to help support his mother and his younger sisters, who then resided in Holland Patent, New York. After spending a year as assistant teacher at the New York Institution for the Blind, young Cleveland set out for the West in 1855 but got no farther than Buffalo, where an uncle persuaded him to remain as his assistant registering the pedigrees of Shorthorn cattle. By the end of the year Cleveland had begun reading law in the Buffalo firm of Rogers, Bowen, and Rogers in preparation for a legal career....

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Clinton, George (26 July 1739–20 April 1812), soldier, governor of New York, and vice president of the United States, was born in Little Britain, New York, the son of Charles Clinton, a farmer and surveyor, and Elizabeth Denniston. After schooling with a private tutor, George left home in 1757 to serve as a steward’s mate on the ...

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Cobb, Howell (07 September 1815–09 October 1868), lawyer and politician, was born at Cherry Hill in Jefferson County, Georgia, the son of John Addison Cobb, a planter, and Sarah Robinson (Rootes). Enrolling in Franklin College (now the University of Georgia) in Athens, Georgia, in 1829, he graduated in 1834. His college years were marked by his expulsion from school after participating in a riot to protest disciplinary action by the faculty for a minor infraction of leaving campus without permission; he was later readmitted. At the same time, they saw him first show signs of his strong Unionism, for he opposed the nullification movement in South Carolina. On 26 May 1835 he married Mary Ann Lamar; the couple had six children. With marriage Cobb acquired his wife’s sizable estate, including several cotton plantations and some 200 slaves....

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Coolidge, Calvin (04 July 1872–05 January 1933), thirtieth president of the United States, was born John Calvin Coolidge in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, the son of John Calvin Coolidge, a storekeeper and farmer, and Victoria Moor. After graduating from Amherst College in 1895, Coolidge read law in Northampton, Massachusetts. He was admitted to the bar in 1897. In 1905 he married Grace Anna Goodhue ( ...

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Crittenden, John Jordan (10 September 1786–26 July 1863), U.S. senator, U.S. attorney general, and governor of Kentucky, was born in Woodford County, Kentucky, the son of John Crittenden, a landholder, and Judith Harris. His father served with Morgan’s Riflemen and later with General ...